Terpenes are organic substances found in virtually all living things, from plants to animals. They serve a variety of functions but primarily, they’re responsible for providing that characteristic smell of the different species of flowers in a garden that attracts pollinators, which, in turn, facilitates natural reproduction. Other plants and animals use terpenes to ward off predators. Yes, terpenes have practical benefits on top of providing an array of scents that no synthetic chemicals can reproduce.
Given their capacity to enhance smell and, terpenes have become the latest go-to ingredient for cooking enthusiasts. Introducing terpenes to any food being prepared, alongside other more accessible spices and herbs, will level up the olfactory and gustatory appeal of the dish.
Interested to know how terpenes can enhance cooking? Here’s everything you need to get started.
Why Use Terpenes for Cooking?
Essential oils have terpenes as their primary component. For generations, these essential oils have been used for aromatherapy and other wellness practices. While research is still ongoing to gauge the therapeutic benefits of terpenes, many supporters already vouch strongly for their medicinal properties.
Here are a few common terpenes and their claimed therapeutic values:
- Pinene – Boost Energy, improves focus, bronchodilator, improves memory
- Myrcene – Anti-inflammatory, sedative, muscle relaxant, pain Relief
- Linalool – Anti-anxiety, sedative, pain relief, anti-bacterial
- Caryophyllene – Pain relief, anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety
- Humulene – Anti-inflammatory, pain relief, appetite suppressant, anti-tumor
- Terpineol – Calming aid, antibacterial, antiviral, immune boost
- Terpinolene – Analgesic, pain relief, digestive aid
- Limonene – Improves mood, anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, relieves nausea
While these are not FDA-approved therapeutic claims as of yet, it is safe to say that terpenes nonetheless offer a viable alternative to individuals suffering from life-limiting conditions such as mood disorders and cancer. There is nothing inherently harmful in trying something new, especially if previously tried approaches have ceased to deliver their expected effects. So long as terpenes are used in moderation, and, ideally, under the guidance of an expert, it’s easy to stay safe.
However, the practicality of terpenes goes beyond their supposed health-boosting effects. Across cultures and generations, terpenes-infused essential oils have been used as kitchen staples. They provide even the simplest dishes with the most exciting flavors and aroma.
So how do terpenes elevate cooking? The answer to that question lies in terpenes’ interaction with other compounds released by the common ingredients used when cooking, such as herbs and spices.
Once terpenes are incorporated into a dish and their unique composition as organic substances coalesce with the specific components of other flavor-enhancing plant extracts, like lavender, for instance, the result is a burst of enriched taste and aroma. Even home cooks can now provide unique culinary experiences at dinner parties, thanks to terpenes.
Terpenes in kitchens are nothing new either. Most, if not all people interact with these compounds all the time, whether they’re aware of it or not. After all, terpenes exist in all almost raw food plucked from nature, from vegetables to herbs and spices.
Now it is worth noting that those interested in using terpenes for cooking are advised to familiarize themselves on the subject. There are many types of terpenes and they are all unique in terms of the scent and flavor they give off. Specific types also work best with certain herbs and spices, so to avoid kitchen fails, learn how each terpene can be best incorporated.
Think of cooking with terpenes as hitting two birds with one stone. Not only is a dish made even more awesome, but those who eat it also enjoy the potential health benefits. This means satisfying the palate along with the body and the mind.
Choosing the Right Terpenes for Your Dish
Not all terpenes are created equal. Some have richer aromas than others. Some have a subtler taste too. And once they mix with common kitchen ingredients, there is a variety of potential results. For
starters, feel free to refer to this list.
This terpene has a strong, flowery scent. It is most commonly associated with lavender, which has it in abundance. It is also found in some citrus fruits, lemon balm, and mint. Linalool complements food with minty flavor well. Think lemon mint pesto or peppermint patties. It can also enhance the flavor and aroma of desserts such as lavender-infused cookies and lemon tart. Keep in mind that linalool’s vaporization point is at 388° F.
Suggested strains: Granddaddy Purple, Pure Kush, Lavender, LA Confidential, and Kosher Kush.
True to its name, pinene smells like, guess it, pine. It is characterized by a fresh and invigorating smell. This terpene’s vaporization point is at 311° F. Pinene is most abundant in rosemary, hops, basil, and parsley. Add pinene to any savory dish and see its boosting effects in terms of both taste and aroma. Think meat dishes like roasted chicken and ribeye steak. Onion soup will also get a kick from pinene. For best results, pair with herbs such as oregano and thyme.
Suggested strains: Grape Ape, Blue Dream, Pineapple Express, AC/DC, and AK-47.
Mangoes are the most popular source of myrcene, a monoterpene with an earthy and herbaceous smell. It is also found in bay leaves, basil, verbena, thyme, and lemongrass. Known for its sedative effects, myrcene is recommended to add to late-night snacks. Anyone ready to just chill and relax at home should whip up something with myrcene from the kitchen. Myrcene works best in sweet and savory dishes. Think curry or salsa. These foods have that characteristic interplay of sweet and salty, which will be amplified by the addition of myrcene.
Suggested strains: Grape Ape, Pure Kush, Granddaddy Purple, White Widow, and Jack Herer.
This sesquiterpene is found in hops, basil, cloves, oregano, and rosemary, among others. Its smell is a delicate combination of spice and pepper and works well with other ingredients including cinnamon and nutmeg. Caryophyllene complements dishes that already have a strong flavor. Think Philly cheesecake, Cambodian beef lok lak, or Sichuan stir fry. These dishes taste peppery as they are and by adding caryophyllene in the form of terps, that flavor will be boosted. The boiling point is at 266° F.
Suggested strains: Purple Punch, Bubba Kush, Lavender, Fire OG, and Original Glue
This is arguably the most popular kitchen terpene. It gives dishes that lemon zesty flavor and aroma. Limonene is found in lemons, grapefruits, oranges, limes, and citrus fruits in general. Any dish built upon citrusy flavor will get a kick from limonene. Think citrus-based desserts and lemon loaf. If interested in using limonene for savory food, consider trying it first with a chicken or fish dish. That lemony flavor complements white meats quite well. Vaporization point is at 348° F.
Suggested strains: Hindu Kush, Strawberry Banana, Cookies and Cream, Gorilla Glue #4, and Banana Kush.
This terpene is probably the most complex smelling and tasting on this list. Its nuanced aroma captures hints of citrus, pine, herbs, and flowers. Terpinolene is most abundant in conifers, apples, nutmegs, lilacs, cumin, and tea trees and vaporizes at 366° F. Use this terpene for both savory and sweet dishes. With its sedative effects, it’s best incorporated into late-night snacks.
Suggested strains: Afghani, Jack Herer, Pineapple Jack, Jean Guy, and J1
Top Tips for Cooking with Terpenes
1. Use terpenes in tandem with common ingredients
Terpenes should be used alongside the usual ingredients in specific dishes. They aren’t meant to replace those ingredients. Here, the key is in the pairing, and that’s done by knowing what terpenes are found in certain kitchen staples. For instance, rosemary contains pinene. Rosemary chicken will require actual rosemary, but you can always add a drop of pinene to enhance the effects of the herb.
2. Aim to preserve the terpenes
Cooking is all about how compounds react to each other and heat. For the latter consideration, keep in mind the vaporization point we mentioned in the earlier section. Incorporating terpenes into any dish that’s cooked way beyond that terpenes’ vaporization point defeats the purpose. Any aromatic and gustatory effect will be lost.
The same goes with the terpenes’ supposed medicinal properties.
Low heat will do the job. And before the dish reaches the aforementioned proscribed temperatures, turn the gas off. Or better yet, do all high-heat cooking before introducing a drop of terpenes or terpene-rich ingredients.
3. Less is more, too much can be bad
Most chefs will advise going easy on the seasoning. That’s because it’s easier to add salt and pepper to a bland dish than it is to reduce the amount of seasoning. Actually, the latter isn’t even possible. It will likely go to waste because no one wants to eat an over-seasoned dish.
The same rule applies to terpenes used for cooking. The goal is to enhance the flavor that’s already provided by common ingredients. What terpenes should do is make the dish more flavorful and aromatic, not overpowering. For instance, a lavender shortbread should only give off a hint of lavender. It should definitely not smell like lavender soap when taken out of the oven.
4. Try combination terpenes
Keep in mind that most ready-to-use terpene products have a combination of terpenes. That should inform a buyer’s decision. For example, for someone looking for caryophyllene, Northern Lights, which also contains myrcene is most recommended. Meanwhile, those in need of myrcene can’t go wrong with Blue Dream, which also contains caryophyllene, humulene, and linalool.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of strains with a variety of terpenes:
- OG Kush (limonene, myrcene, beta-caryophyllene, linalool)
- Blue cookies (beta-caryophyllene, humulene, limonene)
- Tangerine Dream (myrcene, limonene, caryophyllene, pinene, terpineol)
- Green Crack (myrcene, alpha-pinene, beta-caryophyllene)
5. Store terpenes the right way
Store terpenes away from direct sunlight. Ideally, it’s properly sealed and tucked away in cool dark storage. UV rays will compromise terpenes, which are relatively delicate compounds.
Terpenes storage should allow humidity control. It can’t go above sixty percent. The reason for this is the risk of mildew buildup. That scenario will easily compromise the efficacy of those terpenes in terms of providing flavor, aroma, and giving their supposed health benefits.
There’s no need to build a dedicated terpenes storage. Just look at the pantry’s coolest, darkest spot with an on-point humidity level.
6. Get terpenes from a reliable supplier
The last thing a terpenes enthusiast would want to happen is to be duped into buying synthetic terpenes or mixtures with additives. The more natural it is, the better. Only dealing with the best terpenes providers is of the essence here.
Keep in mind that terpenes are slowly but steadily gaining popularity. Demand is slowly building up, which equates to enterprising individuals wanting to cash in on the trend. Not all terpenes suppliers offer top-notch products.
So, be an informed consumer and research available options before making a purchase.
Elevate Your Cooking with Terpenes
Cooking enthusiasts are always on the lookout for ways to improve the dishes they prepare. Whether you’re a professional chef or a hobbyist, there’s always that pressing need to elevate the taste and smell of every meal concocted. After all, cooking is a creative endeavor. And creativity entails discovery and imagination.
It’s high time for cooking aficionados to discover terpenes and imagine the ways these compounds can boost culinary adventures. These organic substances have the power to take any dish to the next level. Yes, terpenes should become a staple in kitchens, alongside more common ingredients such as herbs and spices.
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of terpenes. They’re all around us. There are even ready-to-use terpenes sold online.
For those ready to stock up on food-grade terpenes, please visit Medical Terpenes for a wide variety of high quality terpenes and concentrates.